Will Apple, AT&T and Disney stream smoking to kids?

Kids may pay the price for Big Media's merger frenzy. Here's what's coming:

Wednesday, March 20 | Disney completes its acquisition of Fox. Disney plans to launch its own streaming service by the end of 2019. Investors have raised serious concerns about how Disney will market recent Fox films with smoking and asked Disney if it will bring Fox and its Fox Searchlight film label under Disney’s current no-smoking policy, the strongest in the industry. Disney has refused to answer before the acquisition is complete. After March 20, they have no reason not to commit to behaving responsibly. The deal also gives Disney control of Hulu.

Monday, March 25 | Apple joins the streaming race, announcing details of its new $1 billion streaming platform. AT&T (which is buying Time Warner’s studio assets) has already announced it will launch an ad-supported streaming service, which will draw on Warner Bros.' film library and other resources. These streaming platforms are built to compete with established online leaders Netflix and Amazon.

In January 2019, investors warned AT&T and Disney about toxic tobacco content in hundreds of “legacy” films on their planned streaming services — and asked them to keep tobacco/nicotine imagery out of future films accessible to children and adolescents. View and download those letters here.

What you can do | States and communities are encouraged to alert telecommunications regulators and policymakers to the public health problem of smoking in on-demand films and original streaming series. Publicly-regulated cable operators have their own on-demand services — Comcast’s Xfinity, for example — that deliver smoking films to viewers of any age. These cable operators services may also provide gateways to the subscriber-based, internet streaming services (so-called over-the-top or OTT services) like Netflix.

Need data? A year ago, Truth Initiative published an initial survey of smoking in TV series most popular with young viewers.

Fundamental problem? Movies on video reach larger audiences than the same movies in theaters — and deliver several times as much tobacco exposure. In theaters alone, since 2002, top-grossing G/PG/PG-13 movies have delivered 184 billion tobacco impressions to domestic moviegoers, according to the Breathe California-UCSF Onscreen Tobacco Database.

Smokefree Movies and its valuable partners have succeeded in reducing in-theater tobacco exposure substantially. Yet these gains may be wiped out as tobacco migrates to video channels. More research into prevalence and reach is on its way. But it’s not too soon to take the lessons learned from movies and ask loudly and publicly: Why are America's biggest media and technology brands pushing toxic tobacco at kids?